When the Vancouver Whitecaps transferred midfielder Inbeom Hwang to Russian Premier League club FC Rubin Kazan for a multi-million dollar fee, head coach Mark Dos Santos felt it created a hole in their attacking dynamic.
But he believes they’re onto something after starting Canadian forwards Theo Bair and Lucas Cavallini at the spear of a 4-3-1-2 formation in last weekend’s 3-2 win over Toronto FC. Cavallini, who joined in December from Puebla on a club-record transfer fee, even scored in the 17th minute to open his Whitecaps account.
“What I liked about Cava and Theo was the differences they have as players, where Cava is a player that likes to be in the box, likes to receive balls around the box,” Dos Santos said. “That’s an area where we have to grow as a team in our possession to allow now to get players like him closer to the box or in the box. And Theo, what he does well, it’s the way he attacks the space in behind, like the example of the play where a ball was played in behind and he had to make a run with Laurent Ciman, where he got to the end of the ball and played that cross to Cava.”
The partnership is still in its early days, as a 21-year-old Homegrown (Bair) and 27-year-old established international (Cavallini) get on the same page. That prompts areas of improvement, even if initial returns are encouraging.
“That difference between the two players, they could complement each other well,” Dos Santos said. “What they need to become better is playing closer to each other. I like my two forwards to play close to each other, almost to have the ability with one or two touches to find the other one. That’s something that comes with habits and it comes with work.”
Bair enjoys the formation, too, even if his first goal of 2020 still awaits. The youngster has managed just one shot on goal this campaign and said he’s finally getting into a rhythm.
“We’ve been training in it, I think, in the last week and a half,” Bair said of the 4-3-1-2. “It’s an interesting formation. It allows for me and Cava to have a lot of space wide and in the middle due to the fact that we don’t have real wingers on the field. I think it allows for us to have a lot of runs in behind and space to roam around and a little bit of freedom to try to create something ourselves.”
As Vancouver’s tactics evolve, Bair said it’s important that their forwards occupy the center backs and create danger. Dos Santos had a similar message as the Whitecaps look to climb the standings after ending a stretch where they were held scoreless in three straight.
“Ball possession originates goalscoring opportunities, ball possession also originates that we defend less and we could have more of the ball and we could create more,” Dos Santos said. “So our focus has been around that and continuing on hammering how we could create chances and how we could score goals. It was a very positive thing we created against Toronto, especially how we finished our actions, but it doesn’t change. We need to keep going and keep working."